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Debunked: Joe Barton Claims Wind Is A Finite Resource & Harnessing It Would Slow The Winds Down

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, is not popular among environmentalists. A former chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Barton is a staunch advocate for fossil fuels and expressed skepticism about the role of manmade carbon emissions in global warming after the EPA changed the name to climate change because the Earths’ temperature was proven to be decreasing for 20 years in a row.

Barton’s critics like to paint him as blindly supportive of Big Oil and as anti-science. Liberals created a series of social media memes that mock him for suggesting that wind power can actually intensify global warming.

The most extreme version we found said Barton had claimed that “wind power would stop the Earth from rotating.” That’s clearly not true, but it’s also not clear that this claim was meant to be taken seriously. Instead, we decided to check a less outrageous — and more common — meme mocking Barton.

A reader recently sent us a meme featuring a picture of Barton alongside the quotation, “Wind is a finite resource and harnessing it would slow the winds down which would cause the temperature to go up.”

After researching this ridiculous claim, we concluded that Barton’s words were significantly altered.

What did Barton actually say?

As it turns out, the comments from the meme we’re checking stem from a congressional hearing held almost eight years ago, on Feb. 26, 2009.

As part of a lengthy question-and-answer session, Barton pressed witnesses on some of the risks of shifting the nation’s energy portfolio from fossil fuels to renewable sources. In one exchange, Barton referred to a paper by Jay Apt, director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center and a professor of technology at the Tepper School of Business. In turn, Apt’s paper relied on research in an earlier paper by David W. Keith, currently a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.

Barton’s off-the-cuff comments are somewhat meandering, but the general gist of what he said was to raise questions about some of the downsides of using wind to generate electricity.

“I am going to read a paragraph which is, if true, very ironic. And this is from Dr. Apt’s paper, and I quote: ‘Wind energy is a finite resource. At large scale, slowing down the wind by using its energy to turn turbines has environmental consequences. A group of researchers at Princeton University … found that wind farms may change the mixing of air near the surface, drying the soil near the site. At planetary scales, David Keith, who was then at Carnegie Mellon, and coworkers found that if wind supplied 10 percent of expected global electricity demand in 2100 … the resulting change in the earth’s atmospheric energy might cause some regions of the world to experience temperature change of approximately 1 degree Centigrade.’ … 

“Now, wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it is hotter to areas where it is cooler. That is what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I am not saying that is going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something. You can’t transfer that heat and the heat goes up. It is just something to think about.”

Reading the full text shows that the meme was created for the sole purpose of attempting to mock and shame a Republican Congressman.

First, even though the meme used quotation marks to frame the comment as a single, unified quote, it’s actually a stitched-together mix of several snippets from Barton’s remarks.

Second, the meme ignores that when Barton said that “wind is a finite resource,” he was explicitly quoting Apt’s paper, rather than saying that was his personal belief.

Third, the meme misrepresents that when Barton supposedly said that harnessing the wind “would slow the winds down, which would cause the temperature to go up,” he was actually asking the witness a question rather than stating his view.

And fourth, the meme completely ignores that Barton said in the same exchange, “Now, I am not saying that is going to happen, Mr. Chairman.” In other words, what he was doing was posing a scenario to be discussed further.

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